After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via NetGalley, a massive thank you to Harper Voyager for this opportunity*
The Burning God was one of my most highly anticipated books of the year, as it’s the conclusion to one of my favourite trilogies. I was so nervous going in and while I had certain predictions, which may or may not have come true…I was so blown away by how impressive this book is. I genuinely think this is some of R.F Kuang’s best work yet and was every bit an utterly devastating but fitting finale. I feel like Kuang has already set her place as one of the most exciting and incredible talents in the modern fantasy genre but this book has definitely cemented her place in the hall of fame.
One of the most interesting aspects of this trilogy has always been the way Kuang investigates war and conflict and depicts the terrible consequences of this on an individual level as well as on a wider scale. I think one of the things that struck me so deeply in this novel in particular was the futility of it all and how years of never ending violence and trauma has affected Rin, specifically. As the protagonist and an active agent in all that has occurred, Rin hasn’t been spared from suffering brutal losses of her own, losing companions and pushing herself to the brink in all ways. What is also so tragic in a way, is how she is part of this suffering and has perpetuated it through her own decisions. Rin isn’t a good person by any ‘normal’ standards and she isn’t meant to be likeable, but she is a compelling protagonist nevertheless and I think the way Kuang has unravelled her story and built her up only to bring her back down mere seconds later is some masterful character work.
Speaking of masterful character work, I enjoyed the fact that we got to explore more about The Trifecta; consisting of Su Daji, Jiang and Riga. I love when books have parallels which echo through the ages or cyclical elements and it was so intriguing to see how the trifecta were and how their choices caused such ripples. I will say, I expected a bit more of them than we got and I understand the fact that this book is an absolute tome so it’s hard to balance all the different threads and do them all justice. However, I was surprised at where this part of the book went and how ‘quick’ it felt. It will be interesting to read what other readers think about this but I think this was the one element I was a bit underwhelmed by.
I also thought that there was a searing examination of Colonialism and Empire in this book, through the lens of the Hesperians. There was something extremely disturbing – this is obviously intentional – about the way they view the citizens of Nikan as lesser, as subhuman in fact. It speaks volumes about the way colonizers historically have viewed the colonized, and I really appreciated that this was depicted in such a direct, unflinching way. There is one instance where this is clearly displayed; in a town where the Hesperians have taken over all, changing the buildings to their liking, the way of dress and making the Nikara subservient in their own land, it’s absolutely vile to read and it really affected me.
As well as Rin herself, as in the rest of the trilogy I enjoyed the direction Kuang took the other characters. It’s no secret that many readers in the fandom have an understandable and totally justified soft spot for Kitay and if I didn’t already love him before, this book made me love him even more. I mentioned this in my review for The Dragon Republic but I’ll say it again; the bond between Rin and Kitay has to be one of my favourite relationships in this book, if not across all fiction. I think Kitay is so interesting because of his own moral code and how due to the intensity of his bond with Rin he is forced to do things and be party to things he isn’t comfortable with in the slightest. If Rin is the roiling anger in your gut, Kitay is the beating heart of this book. I also loved that we got more Venka, she is such a strong character and I love her attitude and the journey she has been on and the incredible difference between Rin and Venka’s first interactions and where they are in this book. Kuang is all about the long game and this shines through in the relationships between the characters as well.
This review is already going to be long but I can’t finish this review and not mention Nezha. Oh Nezha, I mean what can I even say? This is another one of those delightfully painful but wonderfully complex relationships that Kuang writes so deftly. Again it’s all about the journey and trajectory with Rin and Nezha, starting out as enemies then becoming allies and falling for each other against all odds then being back on opposite sides of this endless war. I loved the parallels between these two characters, not only on an elemental level – fire and water – but their arcs in this book.
I can’t say anything about the ending without spoiling anything and trust me, this is definitely one that shouldn’t be spoiled so I’ll refrain from going into much detail. Just know that the concluding chapters / ending absolutely broke me. I can see it being potentially controversial and I feel like readers will have varied reactions but personally, I couldn’t have imagined a more fitting ending. It was one of those endings where you can see the breadcrumbs leading to it and it’s tragic and beautifully sad and despite all the signs, you’ll still find yourself bereft.
Overall, The Burning God wasn’t devoid of some issues but as a whole I was still really content with where Kuang left the characters and the story. While I definitely shed some tears, okay A LOT of tears and am so sad that this trilogy is over, it’s been one heck of a trip and I’d like to finish this review by thanking R.F Kuang for sharing her talent with us all. I’m looking forward to her next project, a dark academia type novel set in Oxford, which is all I needed to hear to be sold on it. If you’ve yet to pick up The Poppy War or like me, have reached this final instalment and are grieving that it’s over, trust me, this is a finale you won’t want to miss.
Until next time,